Motion a drag?

…only if you drag the shutter. You may have heard this expression, “dragging the shutter”. What does it mean?

It means taking a flash picture and then letting the shutter stay open for a while longer, so it “drags”.

Why? To capture more light. Not more flash light – that comes and goes in a thousandth of a second or less. No, it is ambient light we’re after. Dragging the shutter means the backgrounds get some light, instead of being dark. So we get better flash pictures.

There is a danger, of course: the danger of motion during that extra extended shutter time. And a very particular kind of motion:


What is happening here? The flash lights up the foreground, and the flash is 1/1000th of a second, so that is frozen in time. But the background is lit by ambient light so is affected by hte long shutter speed. A very recognizable “ghostly” kind of look.

How to drag the shutter?Turn on your flash and:

  • On Nikon cameras, activate “slow flash” and use shutter or aperture mode.
  • On Canon cameras, simply use Tv or Av mode.
  • Or on either, use “night portrait” scene mode (but you don’t use scene modes, do you?).
  • Or use “manual” and select a slow shutter speed, like 1/15th second.

Have fun trying.  This takes a bit of practice, and everyone has their own limit as to what they will accept.

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